A couple more thoughts on summaries

I spent today reviewing summaries of “Backpacks and Briefcases” written by my online class students, and I was reminded while I read of two stylistic conventions that I want you to keep in mind while you compose summaries:

  • Introducing the author when you introduce the text will allow you to use active, attributive phrases when you describe the text’s content and rhetorical moves. For example, you can use the author’s name or a pronoun (“Carroll describes…”, “She reminds us…”) instead of longer or less clear phrases like “The article says…” (articles do not “say” things, writers do) or “Next it tells us…” (Most of the time we’re reading human authors, who should be given human pronouns 🙂 ).
  • Use active voice instead of passive voice. When we write in MLA format, and when we report from a text, or analyze or evaluate content from a text, we should write like that text is happening every time we read it, in present tense (those of you familiar with APA format know there are different conventions for referencing older studies in APA format). So we will write things like “Carroll discusses…” even though she wrote the article several years ago. Additionally, because the author composed the text, he or she is making the rhetorical moves in the text, and we should write about these in active voice to reflect that, rather than passive voice. So, instead of “Rhetorical analysis was described in the text” we would write something like, “Carroll describes rhetorical analysis.” (Notice, too, how when you’re working with word limits, active construction is more concise.) For more help on active versus passive voice, check out this link from Purdue OWL.

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